Bolivia's three-man defence no match for Paolo Guerrero and Peruvian attack
Before their match with Peru, Bolivia insisted that no one would be allowed to watch their training sessions. As soon as the teams were announced, it became clear why. In the surprise quarterfinal of the Copa America, Bolivia coach Mauricio Soria had prepared a surprise of his own: Bolivia would line up with three centre-backs.
It is not a formation they had used in Soria's short reign, but it is part of Bolivia's footballing DNA. The last time they used it was in September in a friendly against Ecuador, when Spaniard Xabier Azkargorta was still in charge. The result that day, a 4-0 defeat, was a warning that the extra defender did not necessarily supply extra defensive cover.
And if Bolivia put the emphasis on defence, Peru took the opposite route. Full-backs Luis Advincula and Juan Manuel Vargas were ready to gallop forward. Jefferson Farfan, strong and quick as a young bull, attacked from right midfield. The tricky Christian Cueva, enjoying a fine tournament from the other flank, and the "Andes Bomber" Claudio Pizarro provided excellent support to centre-forward Paolo Guerrero.
Indeed, a clear question going into this game was whether Bolivia would be able to cope with Guerrero. It did not take long to find out.
Bolivia could have selected an entire XI of centre-backs, but even if they could stop the danger at its source, they still had no one able to cope with Guerrero when a dangerous ball was played into the box. Just before the 20-minute mark, Cueva created space for Vargas to curl in a cross from the left. Pizarro intelligently took two defenders to the near post, and Guerrero arrived to climb above Cristian Coimbra and guide his header inside the far post.
Within three minutes, Peru had doubled the lead, breaking out at pace after clearing a Bolivian free kick. Cueva exchanged passes with Farfan and curled a pass behind the defensive line. No one was quick enough to catch Guerrero, who, with the aid of a slip by the keeper, stroked home a second.
Bolivia were down and almost out. But, to their credit, they gave their best performance of the tournament so far, showing both bold intentions and a variety of attacking resources. The set pieces of Martin Smedberg-Dalence created problems for the Peru defence, and the diagonal movement of Alcides Pena, cutting across from the left, was also interesting.
At halftime, Soria went all out, retaining his three centre-backs but replacing wing-backs Miguel Hurtado and Leonel Morales with a pair of attacking midfielders, Damian Lizio and Pablo Escobar. Bolivia stuck to their task well, and deserved their late goal, a penalty won by Lizio and blasted home by Marcelo Martins Moreno.
By then, though, it was mere consolation. Bolivia had gifted Peru -- and Guerrero -- a third goal, a suicidal square pass from Diego Bejarano providing Peru's centre-forward with the chance to smoothly side-foot home to complete his hat trick. And so neighbours and old rivals Chile and Peru will contest a Pacific, but probably not pacific, semifinal on Monday night in Santiago.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.